Old Coats and Hooked Rugs

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on September 6, 2010

This is the story of a very special little coat that touched my heart in 1948, wove its way into a rose patterned rug in 1954, then came home to live with me in 2010. It's also a story about hooked rugs, an almost forgotten art.

 

I fell in love with the coat when I saw it in the window of the Tots and Teens shop in downtown Lexington, Kentucky in 1948. I wasn’t quite 6 years old and we had driven 200 miles from my home in the mountains to visit my aunt in Lexington. My mother was also taking me shopping for my first real store bought school clothes. I knew when I saw the coat it had to be mine. It was on a little girl mannequin in the shop window.

It was the most beautiful coat ever, wine colored, with a princess style cut and a wide to the shoulder collar that was trimmed in a tiny edge of white fur. I loved that coat. We went inside and I sat down in the floor at the feet of the little girl mannequin and looked up at her long blond hair. I very nearly cried at the beauty of her in the coat. I just had to have it.

My mother said I’d never keep the white trim clean,2010-09-05/Sharran/40fc0e she said it was too dressy for school, but she went ahead and asked the price and when the salesgirl told her, she shook her head. The girl then told her that she didn’t think the coat was my size anyway. She offered to show us others.

“But I’ll grow, Mom, I promise I’ll eat every bite and I’ll grow. Just wait and see! And I’ll keep that coat so clean, it’ll be new forever. Please, Momma, I promise! I really need that coat.”

I was allowed to try the coat on. Mom turned the sleeves under because they covered my hands, but she reckoned maybe she could hem them. And it was a little long, way below my knees, but I assured her it would for sure keep my legs warm if I could just have it. 

Finally, my Granny Ninna said: “She’ll grow into it. Little girls always grow.” 

I wore the coat home, all the way back to the mountains, and I felt very much like a princess.  The first thing Mom did was hem the sleeves to fit me. I told her to leave it long, though, because princesses surely wore long coats.

I must have worn that coat every winter for maybe three years or more and every year Mom let those sleeves out just a little more. I finally did outgrow it, though it nearly broke my heart.

The year I was 12, my mother spent a winter making hooked rugs. She was very talented with fabrics, making wonderful things for our house: quilts, curtains, pillows and upholstery. She’d saved all her old suits and coats until she had collected enough wool to make the rugs.2010-09-05/Sharran/f04bad  She stretched the burlap backing over the frames my dad made her, and then she asked if I’d like to use my black crayon and help her draw the designs onto the burlap. I don’t remember where she got the pattern, perhaps she drew it herself, she was good at things like that. But I do remember drawing the designs onto the burlap.

She promised to teach me to hook rugs, too, and I got very involved. I searched through my old clothes to see if I had anything made of wool that she could use. She told me my clothes weren’t big enough, and she doubted I had enough of one color to fill even one flower in the hooked rug. I looked through my clothes anyway.

I found my wine coat hanging in the back of the spare closet and took it to show my mother. She was reluctant at first, because she thought it was too small to provide much wool; I begged and pleaded and she finally relented. We had to cut the wool into very small strips, and as we cut, we sorted colo2010-09-05/Sharran/84f979rs. It was true, my little wine colored coat didn’t provide much wool, but Mom thought she could use it as part of the shading for the pink roses she planned in the rug design. 

So I learned to hook rugs that year, and though it took us nearly all winter, we made two very beautiful matching rugs, one small and one large.  Most of the background wool was a rich camel color, because it seemed we had an abundance of that particular wool. I think it came from one of her coats, and maybe one that had belonged to her sister. But Mom had managed to find some other colors of wool, too, and of course I had donated my wine coat.   The rugs were lovely on our hardwood floors, and kept my feet warm many cold barefoot winter mornings.  My favorite part of the design was the wine colored shading on the pink roses. 

Years passed, I grew up, went away to school and found a life of my own. The house where I grew up changed too, new carpet was added and the rugs disappeared. I forgot about them. I never took the time to make any more hooked rugs, though I did keep an old hook that my mother used. I remember how to make them, and I remember those long winter evenings sitting with Mom and pushing that hook through the canvas.  It looked much like a crochet hook with a rounded wooden handle. But time changes things and over the years I forgot about the coat and the rugs and the hook. Until now.

When my brother visited recently, he brought to me the pie safe that my great great grandfather built many years ago.  He and my sister in law also brought something else, my mother’s matching pair of hooked rugs.

I look at them now, spread out in my living room, and marvel at the beauty still in the rugs. The colors have not faded2010-09-05/Sharran/cc901e, the wool is as good as new, and there, right where I put them, are the shades of wine on the pink roses. My beautiful wine coat that I had when I was five, going on six; it’s still there.  The wool from my coat is 60 years old now. I don’t think I’ve ever kept another piece of clothing that long.

It’s much like a quilt that contains pieces of fabric from a favorite outgrown dress, my rugs contain wool from Mom’s old suits and coats, and the wool from one of mine. They are pieces of history, remnants of memories that won’t be forgotten.  And I for sure will never forget my wine colored wool coat.

Hooked rugs seem to be a dying art, but I’ve found some folks who are reviving it.  It’s a good way to use up old wool. I know my mother never paid a cent for these rugs, but to me they are priceless!

I found a few links to videos that explain the making of the rugs. Those by a fellow named Gene Shepherd might be the best; he shares the method I remember using. I thought I’d share them with you along with my m2010-09-05/Sharran/c34340emories and pictures.  If my memory serves me right, Mom used burlap grain sacks for the backing. Of course we can buy burlap by the yardage now, but that was unheard of then.

The edges of my rugs need a little repair, but I’m good with a needle and thread.  I will do most anything to preserve my wine wool coat. I wish I could find a picture of the coat to show you, it was the most beautiful coat I ever had. And just as I told my mother all those years ago: "It'll be new forever, Mom, I promise!"

Here are the Hooked Rug videos:

Gene Shepherd: Rug Hooking

Sally Charmley: Rug Hooking

Gene Shepherd: Hooking a Round Shape

Gene Shepherd: Hooking a Corner

Tuesday Night Rug Hooking

 

I think this winter might bring with it anothe2010-09-05/Sharran/b14f63r hooked rug in my life. Why don't you join me?


Related articles:
crafts, hooked rugs, hooking rugs, textile art, textiles, wool

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired art and humanities teacher. I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southeast Kentucky and now live in the flatlands of western Kentucky. I am an artist and a writer and sometimes I have interesting gardens.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Memories mean a lot. magga Apr 25, 2011 5:12 PM 3
Very moving... lakesidecallas Jan 31, 2011 7:41 PM 1
Beautiful rug, beautiful article LarryR Sep 10, 2010 5:45 PM 72
How Sweet! Katg Sep 9, 2010 6:59 PM 3
Untitled MaryE Sep 7, 2010 5:34 PM 2
Beautiful.... Trisha_S Sep 6, 2010 10:25 AM 5

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